Category Archives: IEEE Spectrum

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Madrid Begins Electric Bike Sharing

For something that took years to arrive, Madrid’s public bicycles sure get off to a fast start. Pedal once and the 36-volt, 10-ampere, electric motors will give you a sudden boost. Going up one of Madrid’s many hills, it is a welcome aid. Downhill, the burst jars. But riders can disable the boost by not pedaling, and moderate it with electric controls on the handlebars. With a little practice, the bikes begin to feel like underpowered motor scooters. “Our major goal is to move journeys that are now done by car to the bicycles,” says Elisa Barahona, Madrid’s director of sustainability and environment.

During the program’s first week, however, almost nobody could sign up through the touchscreen UNIX computers at the bike docking stations. While first approved years ago in an effort to combat air pollution, economic concerns and then logistical problems delayed the launch by years, building up attention and demand. After the program finally launched, online attacks to the payment system blocked registration. In the first two weeks, the company’s information technology engineers racked up a 20 gigabyte log from Internet attacks, says Miguel Vital, director of Bonopark, the contractor operating the system on behalf of the city of Madrid. Other attacks were less sophisticated: Bonopark left some of the docking station computers’ screen resolutions at the wrong size, allowing at least one naughty user to access a web browser and leave pornography visible in the place of the user registration screen (The Local).

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Autonomous Emergency Braking

The remarkable thing about letting a car do the braking for you is not that the car stops. It’s how late the car hits the brakes. It’s almost as if a teenager were testing his or her reflexes. Those of us raised on automatic transmissions and cruise control may expect cars to take flighty human drivers out of the loop rather quickly. But if my ride in a test vehicle at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show is any indicator, carmakers are taking their time taking over. Even the most imperturbable driving instructor might get jumpy using today’s autonomous emergency braking (AEB), also called advanced emergency braking systems.

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Self-Parking

The first time I tried parallel parking in a manual-shift car, I got halfway into a spot, nose first, on a sloping cobblestone street in a Pyrenean village before I realized I did not know how to put the car in reverse. I emerged in shame to ask a local for help. My impromptu valet found the ring I had to lift on the shift to put it in reverse gear. He also noted that it would be easier to back into the spot.

Lesson learned. But it is now moot: Last year, a car appeared on the market with a button on the dashboard that could be my next valet. Parking assistance has been street legal since 2003, when Toyota rolled out a Prius model in Japan with the ability to take over steering into a parallel-parking spot. Drivers had to select the parking spot on a dashboard video screen and then operate the gears, accelerator, and brake while the car did the steering.

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